A high-flying career

PUBLISHED: 12:10 11 September 2006 | UPDATED: 10:51 06 May 2010

NAME: Chris Patterson AGE: 21 OCCUPATION: Flight Attendant PERSONAL: Chris had never enjoyed studying, so left school after his GCSEs to work as a sales assistant in the local department store. He enjoyed dealing with customers but found the routine of th

NAME: Chris Patterson

AGE: 21

OCCUPATION: Flight Attendant

PERSONAL: Chris had never enjoyed studying, so left school after his GCSEs to work as a sales assistant in the local department store. He enjoyed dealing with customers but found the routine of the store a bit dull. As his home town wasn't far away from Gatwick airport, he began to consider the idea of applying to one of the airlines for a job with their cabin crew, and sent off several speculative applications to the major operators. Realising it would give him an edge over the competition, Chris did a first aid course while continuing to work at the store.

Chris was eventually accepted as a trainee with British Airways, and after initial training began his career by working on short-haul flights around Europe during the package holiday high season. After 18 months on short-haul flights, Chris recently completed BA's long-haul flights training course and is due to soon be part of the crew on a flight to the Far East.

JOB DESCRIPTION

Airline cabin crew are responsible for the safety and comfort of passengers aboard flights, dealing with everything from safety demonstrations and ensuring luggage is safely stowed away to serving food and drinks, supervising in-flight entertainment, selling duty-free goods and carrying out specific requests.

Opportunities exist with airlines all over the world, from regional domestic operators to major international airlines offering a range of short and long-haul flights. A number of package holiday companies also recruit cabin crew on a temporary seasonal basis to cope with the summer rush.

SKILLS & PERSONALITY

Working as part of an airline cabin crew isn't a profession you need academic qualifications for, but relevant skills including languages and first aid knowledge are things that can help you beat the competition.

It's also helpful to have experience of customer services, as so much of a flight attendant's work involves direct interaction with passengers.

Personality-wise, outgoing and helpful people are top of companies' wish lists, as are those who fit well into a team and provide support to their colleagues. Negotiation and customer handling skills, such as the ability to listen, remain calm under pressure and exercise diplomacy in tough situations, are vital.

There's also a long list of physical requirements, as being on your feet for hours at a stretch makes the job demanding. Cabin crew are expected to maintain decent levels of health and fitness, have clear speech, good hearing and eyesight. Airlines' demands vary, with some asking their staff to be able to swim a minimum of 25 metres unaided, and others imposing height restrictions for safety reasons.

If you're less than 5'2", check whether you're eligible before applying to an airline. While official weight restrictions don't apply, it's safe to say that your weight should be in proportion to your height to stand any chance of getting hired. Good personal grooming is one of the most vital requirements for airline cabin crew, so make sure you're smartened up to the nines for interview.

TRAINING & ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Once accepted for training by an airline, recruits are put through a course to teach them about topics including safety procedures, regulations governing air travel, and passenger care and relations. There are written and practical examinations to pass along the way.

After basic training, new crew members spend between three and six months being monitored by senior staff while working on flights, before they become fully qualified cabin crew.

Crew members wanting to switch between jobs, such as making a transfer from short to long-haul flights, usually undertake specific courses to ensure their skills are up to scratch. Additionally, airlines who use a range of different models of plane will ensure their staff are taught to work onboard various aircraft.

EARNINGS & PROSPECTS

Where there's competition, there's usually a poor salary - and airline cabin trainees are no different. Starting figures can be as low as £10,000 a year, and even qualified cabin crew don't earn much more than £18,000 - though travel allowances and living expenses are usually paid while working abroad.

Senior crew with over 10 years experience and supervisory roles can expect to break the £20,000 barrier, but on the whole, the financial prospects aren't great.

Seniority comes first by experience, with junior crew members gradually working their way up the staff hierarchy. From there, senior crew can become pursers, who take responsibility for sections of the plane such as first class or business passengers. The most senior officials on board flights are cabin service directors (CSDs), who are ultimately responsible for the work and standards of the entire plane's staff.

It's also possible to come off the plane and work in a ground-based capacity, training new recruits, working as a check-in desk official or as a crew controller, responsible for organising staff rotas on flights and dealing with disruptions.

MAIN MOAN

"Working for an airline with flights leaving around the clock means doing some pretty unsociable hours."

MAIN SATISFACTION

"I get to travel the world in style - and get paid for it!"

MORE INFORMATION

Go Skills: The Sector Skills Council for Passenger Transport at www.goskills.org

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